The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which – depending on the context – means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for something that we get, whether tangible or intangible. It is the acknowledgement of something good in our lives and that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside of us. As a result, gratitude helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.
Why does gratitude make us happier?
Gratitude helps us thwart hedonic adaptation. Hedonic adaptation is illustrated by our remarkable capacity rapidly to adjust to any new circumstance or event. This is extremely adaptive when the new event is unpleasant, but not when a new event is positive. So, when you gain something good in your life –a romantic partner, a genial office mate, recovery from illness, a brand-new car – there is an immediate boost in happiness and contentment.
Unfortunately, because of hedonic adaptation, that boost is usually short-lived. As I’ve argued earlier, adaptation to all things positive is essentially the enemy of happiness, and one of the keys to becoming happier lies in combating its effects, which gratitude does quite nicely. By preventing people from taking the good things in their lives for granted – from adapting to their positive life circumstances – the practice of gratitude can directly counteract the effects of hedonic adaptation.
What are the benefits of gratitude?
The benefits of practicing gratitude have been documented in multiple studies. Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have done much of the research on gratitude.
The combined efforts of their studies and of others show that practicing gratitude improves five areas of our lives, and that each of these five areas has a positive impact on the other areas so that after practicing gratitude for a few months you can expect your happiness to increase by as much as 10%. This is equivalent to the happiness you would get if you were to double your income, and it is so much easier to accomplish.
Grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism, and gratitude as a discipline protects us from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness.
How long before you realize the benefits?
We know it takes time to change the way our minds work but practicing gratitude daily for just one month will see a 4% growth in well-being. After 3 months you should be 8% happier and after 6 months you should reach 10%. The longer you practice gratitude the easier it will become to self-generate feelings of gratitude and happiness on command.
What does neuroscience say?
The Upward Spiral by neuroscientist Alex Korb Phd says the following about gratitude.
The benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system, because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine. Additionally, gratitude toward others increases activity in social dopamine circuits, which makes social interactions more enjoyable.
Since low dopamine is linked to both depression and anxiety, the experience of gratitude may give you a dopamine boost and help counter a tendency toward these conditions.
One powerful effect of gratitude is that it can boost serotonin. Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.
It’s not finding gratitude that matters most; it’s remembering to look in the first place. Remembering to be grateful is a form of emotional intelligence. One study found that it actually affected neuron density in both the ventromedial and lateral prefrontal cortex. These density changes suggest that as emotional intelligence increases, the neurons in these areas become more efficient. With higher emotional intelligence, it simply takes less effort to be grateful.
Gratitude engages the parasympathetic nervous system, which in effect increases serotonin and produces feelings of peace and calm. Research from the Institute of HeartMath, a nonprofit institution in Palo Alto, California, also links positive feelings to a smoother, more ordered rhythm of heartbeats, which helps the cardiovascular system function more efficiently and is better for overall health.
So when you think about something or someone you appreciate, and experience the feelings that come with these thoughts, it not only helps you feel good, but also builds up reserves so you are able to respond more effectively to stressful circumstances
The Oxytocin hormone is a major player in physical bonding. Levels shoot up whenever you hug a loved one, engage in sex, or breast-feed. Various studies have shown that being more appreciative of a romantic partner strengthens the relationship. And oxytocin plays a role in the stronger bonds that form when partners express gratitude, according to a study that appeared online in January 2014 in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.
This gratitude-oxytocin link contributes to a sense of community and belonging—a fundamental human need that, if not fulfilled, can undermine mental health.
How to build the habit of gratitude?
Take five minutes a day to write down three things you are grateful for. You can use the futuressecured.com app to store your entries. It may be something that happened recently or in the past. Reflect on the event and the person or circumstances that made the event possible. Feel the emotion that you experienced during the event. If a person contributed to the event write them a thank-you card, give them a call or plan a visit. Verbalizing your gratitude to the contributors will enhance the benefits of gratitude. If you are no longer in contact with the person you should write them a card anyway, the expression of gratitude is key!
Once a week take a few minutes to read over some of your entries.
Take a walk in a beautiful garden or natural setting Focus on feeling grateful for the fresh air and water, the natural beauty of a flower, the peace that the ocean, lakes, or mountains give you, or the shade of a tree
As you sit down to dinner at night, think about the people who helped this food get on your table. This may include the farmer who grew the food, the workers who picked the crops, the drivers who transported it, the person who earned money to pay for the food, and so on.
Think about how you can live a life that conveys gratitude to the planet for all that we have. Don’t overuse water or electricity, recycle, buy sustainable products, donate to charity, and volunteer to help the needy, work in an animal shelter, or clean up a natural area. Get involved in your community. Living responsibly and doing acts of service should help you feel good about your life and more aware of your connection to other living things.